Interview: Anne Grady, Best-selling Author and Founder

Anne Grady survived numerous challenges in her life thanks to her resilience, and now she wants businesses to realize that it is a “skill that can be learned, practiced, and honed.” She has been doing just that for two decades, working with “Fortune 500 companies, associations, non-profits, government agencies, and school districts,” helping them not just survive but also thrive in a changing hyper-competitive economy.

After her son was diagnosed with “severe mental illness and Autism,” Anne Grady devoted her attention and time to “studying the brain and neurodevelopment” to find the answers she was looking for, and to discover the best treatment options for him. The tools she had gained from her research also helped her overcome her own diagnosis of an “avocado-sized tumor in her salivary gland” in 2014.

As a two-time TEDx speaker, Anne Grady has been described as “authentic, hilarious, inspirational, and a ‘dropper of truth bombs!’” She is able to connect with her audiences quickly by sharing personal stories that inspire them, as well as insightful content that is based on cutting-edge research. Also, she gives audiences the “implementation tools” to help them apply their new knowledge on their own situations.

Anne Grady has received recognitions from the Harvard Business Review, Entrepreneur, Inc., Fast Company, FOX Business, and CNN, among others. Her books are “52 Strategies for Life, Love & Work: Transforming Your Life One Week at a Time,” “Strong Enough,” and “Mind Over Moment: Harness the Power of Resilience,” the latter coming with a companion journal.

Check out more interviews with inspiring entrepreneurs here.


Jerome Knyszewski: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Anne Grady: I think what makes us stand out is our authenticity, humor, and willingness to tackle the tough stuff while being honest about how difficult it is. Some authors and speakers sugarcoat their message and appear as they have it all figured out. Our team is full of humans. We aren’t perfect, we are perfectly flawed, and our message resonates with people.

When Evan was in his first hospitalization, I shared the reality of our situation. Laughter, tears, and the horrible mullet haircut I got from the volunteer hairdresser at the Ronald McDonald House.

In 2014 Evan was hospitalized again, and I was diagnosed with a tumor in my salivary gland. Surgery resulted in facial paralysis, a scratched cornea, eye surgery, and six weeks of radiation. In the middle of all of it, I fell down the stairs, breaking my foot in four places.

When my face was paralyzed, I was terrified to speak in front of groups. I drooled, I had a speech impediment, and my eye couldn’t close (I looked like a lizard). Evan walked in one day when I was crying and said, “Mom, if you are going to teach people to be strong, you have to show them that you are too.” So, I finished my pity party and started speaking, drool and all.

Being authentic is the only way I know how to be. I am relatable, and I think people appreciate that.

Jerome Knyszewski: Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Anne Grady: I have heard many of my colleagues say, “I’m afraid of…”. I would encourage them to know that a little fear is a good thing. If you’re not afraid, you aren’t pushing yourself to meet your capabilities. Sometimes you have unforeseen circumstances, and you have to be able to pivot on a dime. It’s not easy, and it can be scary, but that is when growth happens. You can’t achieve strength without struggle.

A more tactical piece of advice would be to diversify your offerings. You may be a “speaker”, but what else are you doing to generate income. The ability to be an effective trainer and facilitator is a very targeted skillset, but it is one that will serve you well. If you can facilitate conversations around applying information, and help people leverage their own natural strengths, you become an indispensable resource.

In addition, what books, digital products, and other services can you offer so that you have other sources of revenue? If the answer is none, it is time to start expanding your skillset.

Jerome Knyszewski: None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Anne Grady: I am grateful for so many people who have traveled this journey with me. I have had some incredible mentors, friends, and supporters.

More than anyone in my life, my husband Jay has been my best friend, business partner, and an incredible father to our two kids. When I was diagnosed with a tumor, I was in a tough spot and couldn’t manage the business by myself. We weren’t at the point yet where we could hire a team, so Jay stepped in and literally became the VP of Everything (that’s his real title). I would not be where I am without him.

Then, I had an opportunity to build an incredible team of amazing people. They are the life blood of this company, and their strengths compliment my weaknesses. No one can create a great business without support.

Jerome Knyszewski: Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?

Anne Grady: A good company is one that provides a service or product that solves a problem. A great company is one that makes a positive difference in the world while doing it. For us, that means being a staunch advocate for mental health.

A good company will figure out the “what” and the “how”. A great company has a strong “why”, a purpose and north star that guides strategy and decision making. Without this purpose, it’s easy for the tail to wag the dog. Having a strong reason why you are bringing your product, service, or solution to the world allows you to make all of your decisions with that in mind. It allows a company to be strategic instead of reactive.

In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins explains that leaders of great companies have a combination of indomitable will and humility. Good companies might have a leader that highlights their successes, but great companies have leaders that know they couldn’t have those successes without the help of a great team.

Companies with great leaders can withstand the test of time because they bring out the best in others and dig into difficult situations, using challenge as a catalyst for growth.

Jerome Knyszewski: What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?

Anne Grady: Success is wonderful, but it can lead to complacency. We got to a point in our business where the phone just rang and leads just rolled in. COVID required us to get hungry again and go back to basics. Cultivating relationships, making sales calls, and networking take time, but it’s time well-spent. I often hear people say, “I don’t have time to do that”. The reason you can’t is the reason you need to.

The other side of this is knowing that growth isn’t always the goal. What do you want for your life? If you want a lifestyle business where you have time to enjoy the fruits of your labor, maybe staying where you are isn’t such a bad thing. We live in a society where more seems better. More likes, more followers, more products, more money, etc. Get clear on what it is you really want. If it’s growth, then you have to think and behave in ways that will get you those results.

I have been guilty of comparing my success with the success of others. The problem is that you never know what’s going on under the hood of someone else’s car. Someone else might have more customers, but for all you know, they are buried in debt.

More importantly, redefine success. Growth doesn’t necessarily have to mean money. Growth means that you learn important lessons and continue to get smarter. Are you more focused on being the best or getting better? The goal should be a better version of yourself tomorrow than you are today. That is real success.

Jerome Knyszewski: Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

Anne Grady: It’s all about getting back to basics and letting results drive you instead of ego. All businesses have ups and downs, and you need the downs to appreciate the ups. Sales and profitability are nothing more than a numbers game. When I started out, I made over 100 cold calls a day. As I grew the business, I spent less time on sales and more time on delivery. When COVID hit, I put my sales hat back on.

Don’t be afraid to go back to what helped you become successful in the first place. IQ is important, but grit and emotional intelligence are what are required for long-term success. Dig in, get your hands dirty, and do the work. You can spend time complaining that you don’t have business, or you can put your nose to the grindstone and create it. If you’re not generating revenue with your current products and services, develop new and creative ways to offset that. Use down time to think strategically so that when things turn around, you are ready to tackle challenges head on.

Jerome Knyszewski: In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

Anne Grady: Sales. I spent so much time developing skills and acquiring knowledge, I forgot that if you have no one to sell that to, all the skills and smarts won’t matter. Many have the philosophy that “if you build it, they will come”. While this may be true for a product, if you are selling a service like training or speaking, there are times where you have to get the client first and then build the solution that will best help them.

If you view sales as sleazy, you have already lost. My mentor once said, “if you had the cure for cancer, you would want everyone to know about it, and you wouldn’t feel sleazy for sharing it”. Your product or service might not cure cancer, but it does solve a problem. You have to believe that your solution is worth promoting, knowing that it will help people. Your faith in your solution has to be more important than the fear of rejection. Selling isn’t sleazy. It is sharing your solution with the world.

Jerome Knyszewski: Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?

Anne Grady: This is such a great question, and I’ll answer it with another question. How do you want people to feel after they have engaged with you or your company? Emotion trumps logic every time. Yes, you have to achieve targets, numbers, and KPIs, but how do you want your customer or audience to feel?

I want my audiences and clients to feel uplifted. I want them to believe in themselves. I want them to know that it’s the small incremental changes that bring about big results. That comes through in everything that we do. If we make a mistake, we own it, and if we fail to deliver, we don’t charge (thankfully that hasn’t happened yet).

If you claim that your goal is a satisfied customer but are then difficult to work with, are you really accomplishing your goal? Instead of focusing on being right, the goal of a great service experience is to get it right.

Jerome Knyszewski: What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.

Anne Grady: Social media can be wonderful. It helps to spread your message, educate, and inspire…if it is I argument that only serves to tarnish their reputation. I think that as long as you are using social media for the right reasons, it will serve you well. When your goal becomes to tell other people they are wrong, you have entered a power struggle, and the second you enter a power struggle, you’ve already lost.

If you aren’t lifting people up, educating, or helping, it doesn’t belong on social media.

Jerome Knyszewski: What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Anne Grady: I haven’t just seen it, I’ve done it. It’s tempting to want to do everything yourself. At one point I was the trainer, speaker, author, marketing team, finance department, IT, and more. I ended up not doing any of those things well because I was spread too thin.

It’s scary to relinquish control, trust me, I know. It’s also necessary for growth and success.

I’ve also seen leaders that take all the credit. If there is a mistake, they place blame, and if there is success, they own it. We are all human and sh*t happens. If you are the CEO, the buck starts and stops with you. Share the wins, own the losses, and keep on truckin’.

Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Anne Grady: 1 in 5 adults and children will struggle with a mental illness in their lifetime. If you are fortunate enough to not to be one of these people, you know someone who is. To grow as a society, we have to make mental health, well-being, and resilience a priority.

People are afraid to talk about mental illness because it has a stigma attached to it. My goal is to start a mental health conversation and movement that takes away that shame and helps people build their strength and resilience.

Resilience is not a personality trait or a genetic gift. It is a set of habits and skills that can be proactively cultivated. The fact that you are reading this proves you have survived the worst thing that has ever happened to you. You are resilient by nature.

We can only be resilient when we make mental health a priority, and unfortunately, right now, we aren’t there yet. My goal is to change that.

Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?

Anne Grady: You can find me on www.annegradygroup.com and @annegradygroup across all social channels.

Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

Anne Grady: Thank you for sharing this message!


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